Small businesses try to combat cyber retail

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Around eight stores in the University Village Colorado shopping center are partnering for Small Business Saturday.

Once Thanksgiving is over, shoppers don’t have to wait until just before Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa for the shopping rush to begin.

Each year, masses of families get together on Thanksgiving and then head to their favorite stores the same night to take advantage of steep discounts, even before Black Friday. But shopping for gifts doesn’t end with brick-and-mortar retail’s most popular weekend. Now many participate in Cyber Monday, which comes with all of the sales, discounts and deals of Black Friday — but without the crowds.

Shopping holidays like Black Friday and Small Business Saturday help brick-and-mortar sales, but Cyber Monday is making a strong push into that market, having broken records in 2016. Now sales are expected to nearly double this year, according to Adobe Digital Insights, which publishes research on digital marketing.

Last year, Cyber Monday brought in $3.45 billion in sales, according to Adobe, and large retailers such as Walmart, Kohl’s and Target beat their own digital sales records over the popular shopping holiday weekend.

Adobe projects this year’s total holiday season e-commerce revenue will total more than $100 billion and that Cyber Monday sales will increase to $6.6 billion in the U.S.

But large retailers with exponentially larger inventories have an advantage over small businesses when it comes to online retail. So what’s a small business to do to compete during the busiest retail weekend of the year?

Small Business Saturday

Without the holiday season, businesses like Terra Verde, a 25-year-old boutique in downtown Colorado Springs, would not exist.

The retailer, which does not have an online purchasing component, sees one of its busiest days of the year on Small Business Saturday, according to owner Chris Sondermann.

“The holiday season makes Terra Verde a viable business,” she said. “Without fourth quarter, Terra Verde would not be able to survive.

“Fourth quarter is custom-made for Terra Verde because it’s all about free gift wrap and service. … Our model of retail pairs really well with the Christmas season and holiday season in general.”

The store also sees a traffic increase during the Downtown Holiday Stroll, which will be on Dec. 6  this year, and the few days leading up to Christmas.

Sondermann said she hasn’t been able to measure exactly how the increase in cyber retail sales has impacted her business, but she has had to accommodate.

“Terra Verde has had to adapt like every other brick-and-mortar to the fact that a certain percentage of people want to shop online,” Sondermann said. “We can’t ignore that and pretend it doesn’t exist, so our job is to emphasize how we are a really palatable, fun alternative to that.”

Colorado Springs Running Company, a retailer in the University Village Colorado shopping center on North Nevada Avenue, is also making efforts to compete with online shopping. The store is partnering with several others in the shopping center this year for Small Business Saturday, to give customers a chance to win prizes and to promote other stores.

According to manager Ashleigh Steed, a lot of customers will use the store for its expertise, but will later purchase shoes from another retailer online.

“We try to stay unique enough that people are driven to come in here and support local business,” Steed said.

Both Terra Verde and Colorado Running Company hire extra employees for Small Business Saturday and the weeks leading up to the holidays.

“When you shop here you’re supporting local, you’re really helping,” Steed said. “You’re helping our paychecks as far as keeping us in business.”

During the holidays, Terra Verde goes from 15 employees to around 30, and Colorado Running Company brings in eight employees on Small Business Saturday rather than its standard three to five.

Customers who choose to shop online are missing the experience that small businesses like Terra Verde offer their customers, Sondermann said.

“I think online shopping is really shortchanging yourself. It’s a boring way to shop,” she said. “If you come here, you get to see everything.”

Market no matter what

Though shopping centers like UVC will receive a large amount of attention over the Thanksgiving weekend, businesses should be selling products and advertising digitally if they want to keep up with the increase in online shoppers, according to Amy Sufak, president of Red Energy Public Relations, a Colorado Springs-based marketing firm.

“With most of our society … it’s this Amazon generation where people are expecting to go online and look at reviews for products and services,” Sufak said. “They’re looking at the ability to do a wish list and send them to family members through the touch of a link, and being able to buy it ‘now’ through the click of a button.”

Red Energy Public Relations has helped build a digital presence through ads, websites and social media for shops at The Promenade Shops at Briargate, the Chapel Hills Mall and The Citadel mall during shopping holidays. And because many people like to stay at home during Thanksgiving weekend, this is more reason why businesses should promote sales online, Sufak said.

“There’s [also] sort of an ethical consideration as far as brick-and-mortar being open on Thanksgiving and the day after,” she said. “Some people believe it’s time for their families to get together — while they may be with their loved ones at home, they’re still online.”

Sufak said, in general, people will be on their mobile devices much of the time they’re home or at work.

“Your social media platforms are already optimized, but your website needs to be optimized for online shopping, so people on iPads and all kinds of phones … can easily see your products and services so they don’t click away, so you can maintain their attention,” Sufak said.

When advertising, Sufak said businesses should consider offering customers a digital shipping option.

“Every year [online shopping] grows because more and more people are in the habit of buying online,” Sufak said. “They like to buy online because they can ship it across the country.”

Sufak said businesses will do themselves a favor this holiday season by having quality online purchasing system, high-functioning websites and effective digital footprints.